electrifying my dollhouse: useful tutorials and lessons learned

I bought my first miniature house, the Real Good Toys Beachside Bungalow, from a local store, My Doll’s House. I was glad to visit the shop in person because once I’d chosen my house, Jim, the co-owner, explained in detail the different types of electrical fixtures that were available, along with types of wiring components, and then gave me a demonstration of how it all fit together. He was helpful, but never having heard of terms like tapewire or brads or punch tools, I nodded through the tutorial and then walked out with my head spinning and one incoherent thought: “Huh?”

Luckily, the Internet, right? There are several great videos. I watched most of the series by Joanne’s Minis. They were helpful and detailed, and the series presented a good, basic how-to. The only problem I found was Joanne (I assume Joanne was presenting), demonstrated the process on a rudimentary, foam core house and I wanted to see how to translate that to my wooden kit. A video by Dollhouses, Trains & More was helpful in that respect, and I watched it several times. I got specific help on my Real Good Toys house at the company’s Dollhouse Wiring site. Tiny Fixation was another excellent source with detailed explanations and great photos.

Despite all of the tutorials, actually executing the lessons was a different story. Here is what I learned, some of which I learned the hard way.

1. The wires are ridiculously small and fragile. I found a helpful hint in Cir-Kit’s Tapewire Instruction Book. For tapewire installations, cut off the plug; peel back the insulation, but then leave a quarter of an inch or so of the insulation on each set of wires. This bit gives you some leverage to twist the wires. Then, cut it off and proceed with the installation. (Many sites suggest just peeling back the insulation and twisting the wires between your fingers, but I found Cir-Kit’s trick helpful.)

2. Adaptors are not worth the trouble. For those of you who don’t know about adaptors, technically, you can wire your fixture to an adaptor, and them just plug the fixture directly into the tapewire; no messing with brads/eyelets, etc. I ruined just one light trying to install the kit when I realized I didn’t want to invest the money and/or effort needed to perfect the craft. The components are just too fragile. I went back to standard installation after one try.

3. Maybe it’s you; maybe it’s not. I lost three lights, all of the same design, over two houses. All three tested fine out of the box, but all failed immediately upon installation. These were the only three of 15 or so where this happened, so it could have been my lack of skill, or it could have been the manufacturer’s lack of quality control. These things happen. I am trying to accept and incorporate failures into the story of my houses–that in any house, real or miniature, not all lights are turned on at any given time. One light failed post-build. I had already “buried” the tapewire, but I was determined to get it right. It was a messy process, but my effort paid off…for a time. Shortly thereafter, the light failed a second time, and I decided I had to let it go. Sigh.

4. Tighten; test; install. As soon as you unwrap a new fixture, be sure to tighten the bulb, test the light, then install. I had a couple of instances where I thought a light was bad when it was just a loose bulb.

5. The unexpected happens. I was so proud when I finished my initial tapewire connections using the spring-loaded nail set/center punch Jim recommended. But then I was horrified to find bulges on the exterior of the house at every point I installed an eyelet. The force of the tool pushed out the MDF. It couldn’t be fixed; another lesson learned for a future project. After this, where I had the room, I sometimes used a Dremel with a fine bit to make starter holes. Alternatively, I used Cir-Kit’s pilot hole punch, which ended up being my preferred method.

Despite the sometimes frustrating effort of installing lights that work…but then don’t, and those that fail after your careful installation, I think lights add a magical touch to a miniature house. They truly do bring it to life. And they’re a big part of the pride you feel when your place is finished, furniture and all, and you sit back and just gaze, a little amazed at what you’ve done, and you say to yourself, “I built that.”

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